Public Release: 

Use of bacteriophages as a substitute for antibiotics to eliminate bacteria

Elhuyar Fundazioa

This news release is available in Spanish.

The research is being funded by the European Union's LIFE projects, and in addition to Azti-Tecnalia, researchers from Biopolis S.L. (Spain), the University of Aveiro (Portugal) and the company Acuicultura Aguacircia (Portugal) are participating in it.

The researchers have obtained very promising results in the labs, but the use of bacteriophages on an industrial scale requires knowing what environmental impact may be exerted by them, in particular on the bacterial ecology. The project, called Enviphage, is endeavouring to tackle this gap between the laboratory and industrial scale treatment. Based on genetic technologies, the project will be studying the effect of bacteriophages on the communities of environmental and intestinal bacteria, two of the critical points when it comes to using this technology in fish farms.

If the expectations are met, aquaculture farmers will be able to avail themselves of a tool capable of eliminating the pathogens of the fish without any consequences for the environment, the fish themselves, the microorganisms or consumers. This advance would greatly reduce the environmental impact of fish farms; it could also make the farms more profitable as the mortality rate in the early stages of the fish spawning process would fall.

"In 2014 and 2015 we have been selecting the candidate bacteriophages for this research, focussing on those that are active against the microorganisms that are pathogenic to the fish," said Igor Hernández, an Azti-Tecnalia biologist. "The field trials will commence in 2016 and they will eventually determine the effect of this technology on marine microorganisms, on the microorganisms present in the fish and on the animals themselves," concluded Hernández.

Avoiding the use of antibiotics

Aquaculture is a growing sector that is generating significant economic activity and which is providing society with food products that are in great demand. Nevertheless, fish farming is facing problems arising out of the accumulation of fish and organic matter in limited spaces, which on occasions is causing the transmission of diseases in the facilities. Even though different strategies have been developed to combat bacterial infections, few of them are applicable in the spawning stages and in the presence of small fry. Many of these treatments include antibiotics, which leads to problems of public health because when the bacteria become resistant they can become detrimental for humans.

That is why consumers are demanding antibiotic-free products. And the use of bacteriophages of natural origin is therefore an interesting alternative to meet the growing food demand for fish and aquaculture products.


The research is being funded by the European Commission's LIFE+ environment programme and is scheduled to be concluded in 2017. Updated information is available at

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